After all the drivers in the Sprint Cup Series had a week off to celebrate the Easter holiday, it would turn into a short week as NASCAR went racing on Saturday night. The track was the “Jewel of the Desert” in Avondale, Arizona. Phoenix International Raceway has provided many unique and spectacular moments, and this week would prove to be no different.
With 70,000 people in the grandstands, the Subway Fresh Fit 600 would provide the first night race of the 2010 campaign.
Pole sitter A.J. Allmendinger quickly got ahead of Scott Speed in his No. 43 Valvoline Ford on the green flag, and would hold that position until the first caution. Kurt Busch got loose in turn 2 and got into the door of Kasey Kahne. The No. 9 would be the worst of the two as he backed into the outside wall, destroying the rear of the car.
The first round of pit stops saw some strategy as the leaders went with new tires on all corners, while some elected for just right sides. When the race restarted, Ryan Newman would be the driver leading the field.
He didn’t have the lead long as teammate Tony Stewart got around just as the race went back to caution for Jamie McMurray’s spin in turn 3.
No lead cars would pit, so Stewart would lead the field back to green on lap 29. The car that was on the charge the most at this point was Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. He’s looked extremely strong at flat race tracks, and this was no different. He ran down Stewart and took the lead on lap 38.
The race’s third caution came out on lap 57 when Brian Vickers blew his left-rear tire heading into turn 3, causing him to back his Red Bull Toyota into the wall. Pit stops were up at this time and the crews went to work quickly as the track began changing with the sun setting. Montoya didn’t seem to mind as he led the field into pit lane, and because of a quick stop by his crew, he got out front heading out of pit lane.
The field would restart on lap 63, which would be the beginning of the first long green-flag run of the evening. Montoya would build up over a two-second lead at one point, but lapped traffic soon caused issues. Second-place Jimmie Johnson, who won at Phoenix last fall, began closing in on Montoya.
Johnson wouldn’t make the pass on the race track as the first green-flag pit cycle was in full swing, and Montoya made his pit stop at lap 131, which would hand the lead to Johnson. After another three laps, Montoya once again found himself back at the top just as the race’s fourth caution flag flew on lap 136 for debris on the track. The debris came after Kurt Busch again got into the outside wall, blowing out his right-front tire.
On the restart, Johnson got a great jump on Montoya, getting the lead from the inside lane. Johnson would hold that lead until there were complaints of fluid on the race track, particularly in turn 2 as drivers were sliding around the corner. NASCAR threw the caution and went to work cleaning up the spill.
Pit stops once again did not shake up the field much, as Johnson held the lead with Montoya right on his bumper. At the restart, Johnson got the big jump, but had little time to get away as Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got together in turn 3, bringing out the caution yet again.
The field went back to green on lap 201, and nothing changed out front as Johnson again would pull away. Soon, however, he had a new contender to worry about. That was in the form of the previous night’s winner of the Nationwide race, Kyle Busch. He was coming, slowly but surely, and had it not been for David Reutimann’s wreck in turn 3, he would have made the pass on the track. But, pit stops would again be up and Johnson once again held his spot at the top.
Johnson held the lead on the lap 261 restart, but he didn’t hold it long as Kyle was on a charge, and he took the lead one lap later. With just one caution for liquid on the track slowing the field on lap 316, he appeared to be on his way to a very successful night and a sweep of the weekend’s race. He held the lead off pit lane following that round of pit stops, which would be enough to get the field to the finish.
On this night, it was Kyle Busch that took advantage of the cooler temperatures and a fast race car to head to victory, or so he thought. With just three laps remaining in the race, Scott Riggs hit the wall in turn 3. This would create an interesting scenario for everyone, as the leaders decided to hit pit road. Kyle Busch and Johnson both took four tires. Problem was another eight cars decided on right-side tires only.
Kyle’s pit crew was angry at what had happened, and now had to just hope their driver could muscle his way to the front.
Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon got the top spot because of his two-tire pit stop, and found himself in prime position to get the win. At the same time, he was remembering back to Martinsville when a late restart spelled his doom and a missed victory. Gordon was hoping this night would be different.
On the restart, which fell under green-white-checkered rules, Gordon brought the field to the line, but Newman on his inside had a strong run through the first two corners and got the top spot in the dog-leg in the backstretch. At the white flag, Newman had a one-length lead but Gordon wasn’t giving up and made a hard charge through the last corner.
But, it would not be enough as Newman brought the No. 39 Tornado’s Chevrolet to the finish line, winning the Subway Fresh Fit 600.
It may have been because of strategy, but it was nice seeing Newman back in victory lane. It was his first win since the 2008 Daytona 500, and his first as a part of Stewart-Haas Racing. A good night for him, but an unfortunate night for many. Had that last caution came out, it was probable that the No. 18 car would be in victory lane. Instead, the guy known as Rowdy went directly to the garage, and much like in years past, declined media and simply left.
Maybe next week will be a turnaround as NASCAR heads down south to a place where everything is big and loud. The Samsung Mobile 500 will be held at the Texas Motor Speedway. It’s fast, wide, and full of excitement.
Coverage will begin at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, with the race going green around 3 p.m.
RESULTS: 1-Newman 2-Gordon 3-Johnson 4-Martin 5-Montoya 6-Kenseth 7-Edwards 8-Kyle Busch 9-Bowyer 10-Logano
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Earnhardt Jr. 13-Harvick 22-Biffle 23-Stewart 25-Burton 30-Hamlin 35-Kurt Busch 39-Kahne
CAUTIONS: Nine for 59 laps. Lap 16-22 (#2, #9 wreck-T2), 24-29 (#1 spin-T3), 57-63 (#83 wreck-T3), 136-148 (debris-T2), 190-196 (fluid on track), 198-201 (#12, #56 wreck-T3), 257-261 (#00 wreck-T3), 316-321 (fluid on track), 373-376 (#90 wreck-T3).
LEADERS: 20 lead changes among 13 drivers. Allmendinger 1-17, Blaney 18, Gilliland 19, Cook 20, Newman 21-22, Stewart 23-37, Montoya 38-57, Kvapil 58, McDowell 59-62, Montoya 63-130, Johnson 131-132, Kenseth 133, Montoya 134-148, Johnson 149-189, Montoya 190, Johnson 191-256, Kyle Busch 257, Johnson 258-261, Kyle Busch 262-373, Gordon 374-376, Newman 377-378.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs. 48 Mins. 14 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 99.372 mph
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.130 Secs.
POINT STANDINGS: 1-Johnson, 1073 points 2-Kenseth, -36 3-Biffle, -92 4-Harvick, -112 5-Gordon, -125 6-Bowyer, -188 7-Burton, -200 8-Edwards, -200 9-Stewart, -204 10-Earnhardt Jr, -207 11-Logano, -211 12-Kyle Busch, -218